The University of Manitoba community joins others around the world that today mourn the passing of Albert D. Cohen, O.C., LL.D. (Hon.), noted business and community leader, philanthropist and significant donor and supporter of the University.
Cohen passed away on November 21, 2011 after a brief illness. He was 97 years young. He leaves behind his beloved wife Irena of 58 years, three children and four grandchildren.
“I am sad to hear of the passing of Albert D. Cohen,” said David Barnard, University of Manitoba president and vice-chancellor. “He was a true pioneer in the retail field and was a great friend to the University of Manitoba and this community. His contribution is immeasurable and he will be sorely missed.”
Cohen was chairman, co-president and co-CEO of Gendis Inc., a prominent real estate and investment company based in Winnipeg. In 1955, he recognized the potential for a Japanese electronics company called Sony, and bought its Canadian rights. Gendis Inc. sold Sony of Canada back to Sony in 1995 for more than $200 million. Gendis also owned SAAN Stores and was instrumental in bringing Papermate pens to Canada.
Cohen was one of the founding members of the Associates of the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, and a member of the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.
In 1983, the University of Manitoba, its Faculty of Management (now the I. H. Asper School of Business) and the Associates, spearheaded by Cohen, established the International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award (IDEA) to honour a business executive who has achieved outstanding entrepreneurial success and who has made an exemplary contribution to economic life. IDEA recipients have included: Ross Perot, Heather Reisman, Dame Anita Roddick, Gerald Schwartz, Martha Stewart, W. Galen Weston, Peter Munk and Jim Balsillie. Cohen was himself a recipient, and had worked tirelessly to establish IDEA as a major award of distinction within the global business community. He personally identified and met with many IDEA recipients as part of his advocacy for the University of Manitoba and its business programs.
Throughout his life, Cohen continued to be greatly supportive of the University of Manitoba. In addition to capital donations, he was active as a campaign volunteer and assisted with beneficial programs such as the Senator Gildas Molgat Memorial Scholarships and Bursaries, the Duff Roblin Political Studies Fellowship and the Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award. The Albert D. Cohen Management Library at the University of Manitoba is named in his honour.
Under the succession plan for Gendis Inc., lead director, Jerry L. Gray, dean emeritus, I. H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, becomes chairman of the Board of Directors. Dr. Gray, a director since 2001, chairs the Corporate Governance Committee and is a member of the Audit Committee and the Human Resources and Compensation Committee.